The World Vaccine Congress in Barcelona is so close (less than a week now!) and we are delighted that our speaker interviews are gearing up in preparation. Today we are excited to share a conversation with Bill Falstich, who will be joining us next week for two sessions. This was a written interview, conducted over email, and we hope you enjoy hearing from him!
Introducing Bill Falstich
As Pfizer’s vice President of Global Supply Chain, Bill is busy leading a team that manages supply for “some of the world’s largest vaccines, a broad Internal Medicines portfolio, and Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral.”
“We drive continuous improvement across Pfizer’s Primary Care supply in support of Pfizer’s purpose – delivering breakthroughs that change patients’ lives.”
This includes “aspects of supply chain management such as product strategy and orchestration, product launch management, supply network design, and supply issue resolution”. Bill and his team are “excited” to be “regularly expanding products” to their existing portfolio.
“Thanks to Pfizer’s healthy pipeline of new products there are many launches underway as well as planned, including our most recent successful launch of Pfizer’s RSV vaccine!”
Lessons from the pandemic
Bill’s first session at the Congress investigates “lessons” from Pfizer’s supply chain “overhaul” during the pandemic. We know that flexibility and resilience were key goals for the team, so we asked about how these were achieved. Bill suggests that when the pandemic began, the challenge for Pfizer and partner BioNTech “wasn’t just developing a vaccine” but making it, “by the billions”. He suggests that “it all started with our talented colleagues”.
“When other industries locked down because of the pandemic, our colleagues continued to come on site every day to manufacture critical medicines and vaccines.”
Pfizer’s “wonderful culture” predated the pandemic, says Bill, and this was “reinforced” with what they called “Lightspeed principles” to enable quick and efficient decision making. However, “supply chains are so much more than a single company”.
“We partnered with more than 300 diverse suppliers and contract manufacturers and added dozens of small businesses to our network, helping us boost reliability.”
Resilience was also “strengthened” through the implementation of two “parallel supply chains” in the US and Europe to “ensure that we could provide our vaccine to patients as quickly as possible”. “Appropriate redundancies and flexibility” within the supply chain included extra inventory, increased workers, and multiple suppliers.
“Our diverse ecosystem of suppliers and partners was able to tackle unprecedented challenges, handle any sudden shortfalls, and even produce new products.”
Underpinning all of this in Bill’s eyes, were “digital solutions”. Three technological areas came into focus to drive innovation forward, combining “product technology”, how that technology is manufactured, and the digital technology to support that.
“We brought together a community of people and strategic partners across these three platforms. By utilising these developments to our supply chain, as of September 2023, we have shipped more than 4.7 billion doses to 181 countries and territories in every region of the world.”
Speed meets safety under pressure
During the pandemic there was a demand for speed and precise timing; how did Pfizer tackle these challenges without sacrificing the safety of its processes? Bill states that “Pfizer already knew mRNA could be the key to a different future for vaccines”.
“When the pandemic took hold, Pfizer Global Supply colleagues went from ‘testing’ mode to ‘execution’ mode. However, the ways we worked in the past would not be fast enough.”
Thus, the team ordered prefabricated modules for installation in the Kalamazoo, Michigan site “within just months” instead of building new formulation sites. They managed to build these units in Texas and ship them overnight, installing around 13,000 square feet of modular rooms and “cutting our expansion time in half”. They also worked with technological leaders to “produce critical mechanical components to manufacture the vaccine at speed”, and shipping experts to “execute the distribution of the vaccine flawlessly”.
“We leveraged predictive reliability monitoring, a cutting-edge technology that enabled us to monitor critical pieces of equipment to detect potential fault conditions and generate maintenance work orders before equipment failure, which helped us reduce downtime and increase productivity.”
This enabled the team to “identify issues” as the product was taken to ultra-cold temperatures. Furthermore, they “leveraged sensor technology on the lines”, standardising real-time performance feedback. This meant that batch end times were predictable, reducing manual operator entry, and “saving valuable time”.
“At the core of our ability to scale of production was our people. Rallying around the idea of a ‘lightspeed culture’, we discovered that a unifying belief that we could succeed, and a common goal, allowed us to achieve production in record time.”
Not only were production and supply chain updated, but day-to-day operations were changed, processes streamlined, and silos deconstructed.
Taking mRNA beyond the pandemic
Some of us might think of mRNA vaccines as a pandemic one-hit-wonder, but the technology was ready to go thanks to decades of research, and the story is not over yet. Bill’s panel explores the “post-pandemic path” of mRNA vaccines, so we asked what we can expect from supply chains as we try to leave the pandemic in the past, and how we can better prepare for a future crisis.
“For one, expect more mRNA vaccines in the future.”
Bill tells us that “Pfizer has already launched clinical trials of mRNA influenza vaccines” and is working with BioNTech to “co-develop the first ever mRNA-based vaccine for shingles”.
“We will see technological advancements across supply chains to address the growing global demand for vaccines.”
The example that Bill gives is “high-visibility supply trackers”, which allow for a “deeper understanding of current production levels” and “increase our flexibility in prioritising in-demand products”. GPS tracking that operates 24/7 “can help us respond to supply issues in real-time”, including replacing damaged products immediately.
“This helps us achieve a 99% success rate for delivering our vaccine shipments.”
“As the pandemic forced us to work on a global scale, we also deepened our relationships with ministries of health, trade organisations, and customs agencies.”
These “fortified relationships” enabled “lightspeed” distribution of the authorised COVID-19 oral treatment.
“I anticipate continued close working relationships in this space to ensure the best outcomes for patients all over the world. We must continue to collaborate across the public and private sectors, industries, and areas of expertise.”
However, the responsibility doesn’t just lie with pharma. Bill recommends that governments and international organisations “must incentivise private industry to take on risk for the good of all”. This could be through advance purchase agreements or capacity reservation agreements for medicines and vaccines.
“As it relates to regionalised manufacturing, we must consider how to build ecosystems that enable success – including consistent production volumes, harmonised regulatory approaches, technically strong workforces, and the like.”
As always, we conclude by inviting our speakers to share their reasons for joining us at the event. Bill looks forward to the “new connections” and chance to “learn from others” at the Congress.
“We are so fortunate to work in such a dynamic and fast-growing space, and I am excited to have the opportunity to hear other speakers share their insights and expertise.”
We hope that the Congress will be as fruitful for Bill as it undoubtedly will be for those of us who hear more from him. Thank you to Bill and his team for facilitating this conversation and providing such valuable insights. If you enjoyed this interview, why not subscribe to our newsletters so you don’t miss more like this? If you haven’t yet got your ticket to join us at the event next week, make sure you do that now.